A Practical Interpretation of the Ho’oponopono Way of Forgiveness
By Mike Larcombe / 10.31.2017
Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len
About 10 years ago, I came across the story of Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, a psychologist who took a job in a facility in Hawaii for 30 prisoners with mental health problems. The story goes that he never saw any of his patients face to face, but each day he read their case files and looked at their photographs, while he repeated over and over the four sentences of Hawaiian Ho’oponopono: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.”
Apparently, after four years, the mental health of 28 out of the 30 patients staying there had fully recovered and the institution closed down. Dr Len claimed that he worked only on himself, on his own purification, by taking 100 percent of the responsibility for the prisoners’ existence within his own life and consciousness.
I was fascinated by this story. I also attended a workshop with Dr Len in London and found the simplicity of his message intriguing.
Ho’oponopono and work issues
Soon after that, I had a new manager at work whom I struggled to relate with. I found that working for her was just too difficult for me, so I decided to leave.
During my final week, my manager and I met for the last time. I was feeling resentful and angry. I didn’t like her values, or how she expected me to change and do things her way, and I didn’t like how she treated me. I considered her to be a micro-manager, dictatorial and too bureaucratic, and felt unappreciated and unvalued. Ahead of our final meeting, I thought, “I’m not going to be able to sit in a room with her for an hour and contain myself.” A bad ending seemed a guaranteed inevitability.
I decided this would be a good time to practice the Ho’oponopono way of forgiveness. I think I skipped over “Please forgive me” and “Thank you,” and just went with “I’m sorry and I love you.” Throughout our meeting, I repeated this mantra in my head, over and over. This helped me manage and contain my feelings of disgruntlement towards my manager. The meeting was just about bearable, and thankfully, ended without drama. I was at least pleased that I didn’t lose my cool, and was able to refrain from telling her exactly what I thought of her. A bad ending was avoided!
Some weeks later, I got a call from another organization, and was informed that my now ex-boss had highly recommended me, so they wanted me to do some consulting work for them. I accepted their offer, was paid a vastly increased amount of money and was greatly valued and appreciated.
It was an amazing turnaround, and the recommendation was the last thing I expected from my ex-boss whom I didn’t see eye to eye with. I had thought that she didn’t respect me and thoroughly disapproved of me, as I did her. However, it became clear to me that my imagined thoughts about her—towards me—were, in reality, a reflection of my own negative view of her. I realized I had no idea what she thought of me, as I’d never asked and she’d never said anything one way or the other. I knew that I didn’t like her and was envious of her position and success, so that was my issue, not hers. A lesson learned.
Recently, a friend was struggling at work. She works in a competitive, goal-focused sales environment and struggles to embrace the values and attitudes of the organization, as well as those of many of the people who work there, which are at odds with her own. I told my friend about the cause-and-effect forgiveness of Ho’oponopono, so she went to work and tried it.
A week later, we met again, and she told me things had changed at work, in quite a dramatic way. Her boss had written her an encouraging email letting her know that he valued and appreciated her work. “He never does that,” she said. Work colleagues that only a week before, she couldn’t bear sharing an office with, began being nice to her. She found them to be more likable and not as annoying as she’d previously thought. So within a week, life at work had significantly improved, and she was happier and less stressed.
The magic of Ho’oponopono: How it works
How does the ‘magic’ of Ho’oponopono work? When we say “I’m sorry and I love you,” what are we apologizing for, and in this context, what does “I love you” mean?
I come with a lifelong history of thinking critical thoughts about other people. I think we all do. Every day, I experience this. If you meet me, I’ll find something about you that I disapprove of, something that I think you shouldn’t think or do. In one way or another, I’ll disapprove of you or internally disagree with you. On the other side of the coin, I may also see positive qualities in you and recognize your good heart. Indeed, I’m sure there’ll be things I like about you and appreciate in you. So I’ll experience a mixture of positive and negative thoughts about you, in the same way that I experience a mixture of such thoughts about myself.
You’ll find me polite, respectful and kind. I might even share with you my appreciation and the positive thoughts I have about you. However, it’s most unlikely that I’ll share any critical or negative thoughts I might have. To my shame, I might share these with someone else, behind your back.
To tell you exactly what I’m thinking about you, to your face, would be socially inappropriate and invite you to dislike and disapprove of me, and I don’t want that. I wouldn’t want any trouble or for you to dislike me, nor would I want to upset you and then feel bad about hurting you. You probably wouldn’t appreciate some of my thoughts about you, if only you knew of them.
We don’t live in a world where we’re always honest and transparent with each other, and there are many reasons why we often keep our thoughts to ourselves. Generally, we try to get along with one another, and we tend to avoid hurting others and getting into fights, if we can. Therefore, for good reasons, we often keep our negative judgments and critical thoughts about others to ourselves.
Taking responsibility for critical or negative thoughts
Internally apologizing for my unkind, critical thoughts is fairly straightforward for me, but apologizing, when I’m the one who feels wronged, is a strange thing to do. It’s counter-intuitive, since in my mind, it’s them who should be apologizing to me, and not the other way around. Nevertheless, I’ve found that doing it under certain circumstances can completely turn things on their head.
It’s important to realize that the “I’m sorry” part isn’t an empty apology, nor is it for the other person to hear. The apology is for something I’ve done to the other in my mind. It’s for me, and it’s about me.
The apology is for my mind-created critical thoughts about the other person, and for believing such negative distortions. It’s an apology for thinking that from my point of view, someone else is unkind, ignorant, stupid, mean, selfish, too competitive, uncaring, unaware or at best, misguided; or, for perceiving them as not on my side and against me in some way.
When I do this, they become the person I’ve created in my mind, and then I wholeheartedly believe that’s who they are, often without questioning myself. According to me, they’re like this or that, and I’m sure of it to the extent that, to me, it can become an unquestionable fact. I can take things further and look for others who will agree with me, in order to ‘prove’ my righteousness and their wrongfulness. To my discredit, to support my beliefs, I’ve been guilty of quietly recruiting others and forming a “we don’t like them” club (or joining an already-existing one).
When someone has done obvious harm, it’s easy for us to dislike and condemn them and become righteous. But this isn’t about the wrongful actions of another person, it’s about what we think of them. I know that it’s sometimes very difficult to change our views about others, especially when we’ve made up our minds, but with Ho’oponopono, there’s no need to work on directly challenging our negative or critical thoughts about other people—we can just do the practice.
The recognition of oneness
The “I love you” part of Ho’oponopono is about universal love, the love and abiding peace that can be found in the present moment; the love and appreciation for the beauty of nature, for a flower or a mountain view. This is the love shown in an act of kindness or in heartfelt giving, and it’s the love of appreciation and gratitude. It’s the recognition of the connectedness that comes with the realization that you’re me and I’m you. It’s a felt understanding that separation only exists inside our minds, and outside of that, there’s no separation.
A transformative movement of inner energy
When I practice “I’m sorry and I love you,” I notice that it creates a movement of emotion and energy in me. When I do it, I see that while I’m going against what I think and what I believe to be right, something in me moves and something is released. Something changes; a transformation happens. I start to see the person I’m thinking of in a different way, from a different perspective. Often, as something in me miraculously changes, the other person changes, too, sometimes right before my eyes!
I find it’s difficult (or perhaps impossible) to hold onto a negative view of someone, while internally repeating to myself, “I’m sorry and I love you,” over and over again.
If we can open up to seeing that our perception of the outside is created from within, then we can open up to the realization that we do indeed create our own reality. Actually, we create our perception of reality, which is the only reality we know.
How we think and act has an influence on others, and this affects how they respond to us, so it follows that you’re the cause and effect of how things are for you. You’ve created this world exactly as you see it, and that’s how it is. How you see it is based on your perspective, seen through the filter of your individual lens—change your filter, and everything changes.
In your story of you, you’re the creator of all the characters and all the players. If you’re surrounded by people you see in critical, negative ways, they’re that way because of you, because you see them that way. You’ve done that. Therefore, the negativity you see in others is yours. It’s you, not them.
Like me, you do what you do naively and in ignorance. It isn’t your fault, and you’re innocent, for you know not what you do. Whatever you think about this person or that person—whatever you feel towards them—they’re seen that way, by you, because of you. It’s according to you that they have certain traits. You’re their judge and jury. You’re the one who finds them guilty, and it’s you who condemns them.
Think about the person you dislike the most and try saying to yourself, “I’m sorry and I love you.” There’s no need to say it directly to the person, or to seek their forgiveness. Your “sorry” isn’t for them, it’s for you. Open up to feeling sorry for creating a negative image of them in your mind, and for your disapproving, critical thoughts.
This isn’t about forgiving someone for all the wrongs they’ve done to you and others. It’s about forgiving yourself and cleansing. You’re saying “sorry” for disliking, or perhaps hating and fighting them, at the very least in your mind. You’re their lynch mob, so you can cut them down, forgive them and set them free; then, forgive yourself for thinking in such ways and set yourself free.
This doesn’t mean that we should passively accept the harmful behavior of others. As I said, it’s not about them but about you, and letting go of the negativity festering inside you.
Be careful of doing this in a manipulative way. If you do it because you’re trying to make things better for you, or because you want others to change, you won’t feel better and nothing will change. When we try to change others, this kind of external focus tends to meet resistance. It doesn’t work and we get more of the same.
On the other hand, Ho’oponopono is a practice without any goal-oriented intention, and it needs to be done with an attitude and intention of unconditional awareness. It starts with “I’m sorry” and ends with “I love you.” What does or doesn’t happen afterwards, the result or consequence, isn’t your business. So don’t do it with any kind of goal or outcome in mind. Just do it!
Say “sorry” for holding a critical-negative view of the other, and say “I love you” in recognition that we’re all the same, that you’re them and they’re you. “I’m sorry and I love you” is a heartfelt apology from yourself to yourself for the way you think about them.
Say “sorry,” and feel it. Your intellect may disagree and say, “This isn’t right, they don’t deserve it, they should say ‘sorry’ to me.” But this isn’t an intellectual “sorry.” It’s an emotional, energetic “sorry,” done for self-purification and self-transformation. It’s not the “sorry” we make children say while we know they’re just going through the motions and don’t mean it.
This is a private and secret “sorry” that isn’t shared, so never tell. As you think the words or say them aloud (if alone), turn inwardly and notice the sensations and movement within. Practicing “I’m sorry and I love you” is about noticing any movement or change within you, and then seeing what, if anything, happens. If there seems to be no change, or nothing seems to happen, it doesn’t matter.
Your world is a reflection of you, so when you change, others change; and when others change, the world changes. So when there’s movement and change within you, there’s no doubt that sooner or later, there’ll somehow be a change somewhere out in the world.
We create our world in our own image, and this can only happen within each one of us. So it follows that it’s only from within yourself that you can ever experience change in the world. Thus, internal change has to show itself externally, so you need to stay with yourself without seeking to change others or wishing for things to be different. If you wait for others to change, you’ll be waiting a long time. That’ll never work, because they can’t change if you don’t. Everything starts and ends with you.
Remember, this isn’t about forgiving others for what they did, nor is it an apology for what you did to them. It’s an apology for what you think about them.
Ho’oponopono is about seeing ‘the other’ with compassion, and finding a way to be more at peace with ourselves. However, it’s not about tolerating or passively accepting abusive behaviour. Whether there’s change in the other or not, we can understand them with compassion, find some inner peace and at the same time, protect ourselves and others from those who’ve done harm and might do so again.
At its heart, the Ho’oponopono practice of forgiveness is an apology for what you’ve done to yourself, for creating and then projecting your mind-made critical thoughts and negative views about others onto them—which’ll always have a negative effect on you. “I’m sorry and I love you” is a way for you to stop doing that, and remember: you do it not for them, but for you.
I find that for live interactions, the shorter “I’m sorry and I love you” works well for me. I use the full four-sentence version when I’m sitting quietly, alone, reflecting on those I’m currently experiencing difficulties with or have had issues with in the past. I’d suggest that to begin with, you start with all four sentences and see how that goes.
My own apologies
To all those I’ve had negative and/or critical thoughts about—which is just about everyone—I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.
To another boss I didn’t like—I’m sorry and I love you.
To my sister—I’m sorry and I love you.
To my brother, my mother, my father, my in-laws, the women I’ve loved, past friends, my neighbours, my work colleagues, my clients, and all those I perceive as against me and those I blame (including those yet to come)—I’m sorry and I love you.
To Donald Trump—I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.
To those at war—I’m sorry and I love you.
To profit-first corporations—I’m sorry and I love you.
To society’s commonly hated figures—murderers, rapists and those who harm children—I’m sorry and I love you.
To animals everywhere, especially to those who suffered before I ate them—I’m sorry and I love you.
To the planet—I’m sorry and I love you.
To you and to myself—I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.